The Dance That Anglers Know
by Matt Canter | Brookings Anglers
Springtime…it’s a magical time of the year in the Carolina Mountains.
Wildflowers, trees budding out, and songbirds singing are all like magnets to enjoying the great outdoors. What often goes unnoticed is what’s happening in our local trout streams this time of year. As water temperatures warm ever so slightly, the trout, and the aquatic insects they feed on, come out of their lethargic winter modes and “Dance the Dance” that anglers in the know lose sleep over.
A critical component of the dance is referred to as a “hatch.” This can get kind of nerdy, but bear with me. A hatch refers to a moment in time when a particular type of aquatic insect decides to leave the water to mate. If you’re not familiar with aquatic insects, there are thousands of bugs that live 99.99 percent of their lives underwater. The 0.01 percent of their life that they are not underwater is the hatch. When water temperature, sunlight, and time of year all line up for a specific type of aquatic insect, they all decide to leave their homes at the bottom of the stream, swim to the surface, “hatch” out of their exoskeletons, dry their wings, and fly up into the canopy above to mate. This entire process from when they hatch until they die lasts approximately 1-2 days.
Why is this so important? Aquatic insects make up the majority of our beautiful mountain trout’s diet. When these aquatic insects hatch, it’s their most vulnerable moment, and the trout know that, which sends them into a feeding frenzy. I might add that this feeding frenzy occurs on the surface of the water, making a very visual and desirable angling experience to the angler who knows what to look for.
Here’s how I describe the dance:
After a long cold winter, a warming spell is in the forecast. I go to great lengths to free a window of opportunity…fishing is on my mind. The day arrives, and I pack my vest with lunch, water, and flies. I want to keep my own personal expectations low, but I make sure to pack a box of dry flies that will best mimic the potential “hatch.” After a long hike into a section of stream that is not fished often, I start the day by nymph (flies that sink) fishing. I am picking up a fish here and there, fishing likely holding spots as to be expected this time of year. After a brief lunch break on a likely rock, I catch a glimpse of a bug fluttering by. Trying to keep expectations low, I can’t help but focus on looking for more bugs. After I see two or three flying up off of the water, and another float by on top of the water, I’m about to burst with excitement. The hatch is about to be on in full force. I grab a bug out the air as it flies by, study it, and select a fly out of my box of dry flies that best mimics it, and tie it to the end of my line.
Time to Dance. Scan the water. Find a fish feeding on the bugs…I am looking for any disturbance on the water’s surface. There he is, right on that current seam where he should be.
Where’s the right position to make the cast from? I want the fish to see my fly float on the water just like the real thing, but if the fish sees me or my shadow beforehand, it’s all over. I find the right position and lay down a soft cast in the feeding zone. As the fly floats with the current, I see his shadow emerge from the bottom of the stream. Patience now, it’s a slow riser…lifting too soon will blow the whole thing.
He ate it…set the hook! A connection is made. I fooled the fish, got him to eat my artificial fly just like it was the real thing. I study his beauty and release him to fight another day.
For some people, fishing is about bringing a meal to the table, for others it’s bragging rights of catching a big fish, but for me it’s all about “The Dance.” April is a good month to Dance in the Carolina Mountains.